Astronomers Will Search For Life-Friendly Planets With New Habitability Index

Posted: Oct 7 2015, 2:49am CDT | by , Updated: Oct 7 2015, 4:57pm CDT, in News | Latest Science News


Astronomers Will Search for Life-Friendly Planets with New Habitability Index

The newly devised index help compare and rank exoplanets on the basis of their habitability.

Researchers have devised a new habitability index which will help judge the most suitable alien planets for life. 

The new metric will compare and rank exoplanets, which are beyond our solar system and are in thousands of numbers. The new habitability index will help scientists prioritise those exoplanets for establishing life beyond earth.  

"Basically, we've devised a way to take all the observational data that are available and develop a prioritization scheme," said Barnes, University of Washington’s astronomy professor. "so that as we move into a time when there are hundreds of targets available, we might be able to say, 'OK, that's the one we want to start with.”

Astronauts traditionally use powerful telescopes like Kepler Spacecraft to detect Earth-like exoplanets in the universe. James Webb Space Telescope, which will be launched in 2018, will be the first to actually measure the atmospheric composition of the objects far off in space. 

But these telescopes and other instruments are quite expensive and require a lot of time to complete the work since they investigate each exoplanent and characterize it either potentially habitable or not right for life.

The tool which was developed in the Virtual Planetary Laboratory will enable astronomers to identify those planets which have the better chance for hosting life or what are worthy to invest limited resources on.

To decide whether a planet is suitable for giving life a chance, scientists look at their star’s “habitable zone” which is informally called the “Goldilocks zone.” It indicates that whether a planet has the ability to maintain liquid water in its surface. 

The new index estimates a planet’s rockiness, rocky planets being the more Earth-like and a phenomenon called “eccentricity-albedo degeneracy,” which tells how balanced is the relationship between a planet’s albedo, the energy reflected back to space from its surface, and the circularity of its orbit.

The new index is more subtle than any previous indexes and produces continuum of values which represents the likelihood of a planet’s being habitable.

“This innovative step allows us to move beyond the two-dimensional habitable zone concept to generate a flexible framework for prioritization that can include multiple observable characteristics and factors that affect planetary habitability,” said Victoria Meadows, co-author of the study.

“The power of the habitability index will grow as we learn more about exoplanets from both observations and theory.”

The full study can be read here.


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Hira Bashir covers daily affairs around the world.




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